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Book Summary – Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior

Crucial Confrontations - Book summary

How should you confront an employee who’s chronically late, a CFO who’s suspected of embezzling company funds, or a daughter who lies about her late nights with her “gangster boyfriend”? Failed promises, missed expectations and poor behaviors can create feelings of disappointment that compound into chronic problems for families, teams and organizations. This book by Kerry Patterson equips you with the skills to confront disappointing performance and behaviors, so you can solve problems, improve accountability, and strengthen relationships. In our free Crucial Confrontations summary, you’ll get an overview of what’s involved in handling crucial confrontations, before, during and after the confrontation.

Crucial Confrontations: An Overview

Crucial confrontations are about disappointments, which arise when people don’t do what you believe they should be doing; these involve broken promises/rules, missed expectations or bad behaviors.

The authors studied more than 25,000 people across many institutions for 2 decades, shadowing opinion leaders and influencers for over 10,000 hours, to identify what made them effective. The authors found that most organizations are losing 20-80% of their potential results due to their inadequacies in handling crucial confrontations. By improving relevant skills, companies have seen improved accountability and morale, to improve productivity by as much as 40%, reduce costs by 50% and improve employee satisfaction by 20%.

Before the Confrontation: Work on Me First

The success (or failure) of crucial confrontations depend on how and what we communicate. Before entering a confrontation, we need to establish what we are confronting, if we wish to confront it, and to ensure we approach it with the right frame of mind.

Crucial Confrontations Book Summary_before confrontation

1. Identify “What” to Confront

Our full summary explains how to break down what you want to confront, using the CPR approach, how to unbundle and expand the list of issues, and prioritize what’s the most important.

2. Decide “If” you should Confront it

Generally, there are 4 signs that you should be speaking up; we explain these scenarios in the complete 14-page summary, and also touch on how to deal with cases where you decide to make a stand about something no one else cares about.

3. Master Your Stories (Sort out your Headspace)

The first few seconds of a crucial confrontation can shape the tone of the conversation and outcome; with the wrong approach, the other party will just get defensive, violent, and/or clam up. Understand how the “Path to Action” works, and how to explore different perspectives using the six-cell model. Get a detailed breakdown of the process, including the 6 sources of influence, from our full Crucial Confrontations summary.

During Confrontation: Confront with Safety

Once you’re clear on the issue that you wish to confront, and are looking at the other person as a human being (rather than a villain), you’re ready to begin. This phase is about describing the gap, focus on keeping it safe, and making it motivating and easy for the person to commit to being accountable.

Crucial Confrontations Book Summary_during confrontation

1. Describe the Gap

A gap, refers to the difference between what’s expected and what actually happened. In our complete 14-page summary, you’ll get an explanation on how to create a safe space for the conversation, how to address the gap and share your path, before trying to secure an agreement.

2. Motivate Others to Want to Take Action

Motivation is not about power and perks; it’s about consequences. Our full summary elaborates on how to focus on “natural consequences”, how to tailor your approach to the situation, what to look out for, and how to finish well.

3. Make it Easy to Keep Commitments

It’s your job as a leader to make things easier and more desirable, to remove long-term barriers to results. The book elaborates on what it means to involve others and get their buy-in. Check out our complete Crucial Confrontations summary for a detailed breakdown of the components. End off by popping a verifying question to check that all key motivation and ability issues have been addressed.

4. Stay Focused and Flexible

Even if you’ve considered your “what” and “if” carefully, you may find new issues and problems emerging as the conversation unfolds. In the complete book summary, we explain 4 emergent problems that you’re likely to face, and how you can handle them.

After the Confrontation: Move to Action

By now, we have an agreement and commitment to a specific plan. It’s crucial to follow up, and the authors recommend the “WWWF” framework: Who does What, by When, and Follow up.

Here’s a high-level recap of the Crucial Confrontations framework:Crucial Confrontations Book Summary_framework summary

Getting the Most from Crucial Confrontations

Ready to learn how you can solve problems, improve accountability, and strengthen relationships? To zoom in on the details of the steps, processes and techniques outlined above, do check out our complete book summary bundle which includes an infographic, a 14-page text summary, and a 26-minute audio summary.Crucial Confrontations summary - book summary bundle

The book ends with an extended example to show how a husband applies the principles above, to address his concerns of his wife’s possible infidelity. It also includes other resources including:
• A self-assessment survey to understand how you typically handle crucial confrontations;
• Additional diagnostic questions for the 6 sources of influence;
• Tips for motivating with praise; and
• Questions for group discussions.

You can purchase the book here for the full details, or download some of these resources at

Do also check out our Crucial Conversations summary and Difficult Conversations summary for more powerful tips on how to handling high-stake and difficult conversations!

About the Authors of Crucial Confrontations

Crucial Confrontations: Tools for Resolving Broken Promises, Violated Expectations, and Bad Behavior is written by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, Al Switzler— all are the co-founders and leaders of VitalSmarts, an innovator in corporate training and organizational performance, which has taught more than two million people worldwide and worked with more than 300 of the Fortune 500 companies.

Crucial Confrontations Quotes

“Confrontations are the prickly, complicated, and often frightening performance discussions that keep you up nights.”

“Learn how to have crucial confrontations and you’ll never have to walk away from another conflict again.”

“Policies, systems, programs—any method for encouraging change—will never function fully until people know how to talk to one another about deviations and disappointments.”

“Motivation is about expectations, information, and communication.”

“Change others’ view of the consequence bundle and their behavior will follow.”

“We become righteously indignant only when others have tread on sacred ground.”

“It’s okay to change topics, but always clarify what you’re doing. Place a bookmark where you just were so that it will be easy to return to it later.”

“There’s a fine line between sharing natural consequences and threatening others… If your motives are wrong, sharing becomes threatening.”

Click here to download Crucial Confrontations book summary and infographic

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